In the cold pre-dawn of a spring morning in 1915 thousands of young soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the British Empire stormed beaches on the desolate Gallipoli peninsula in the Aegean Sea. They were met by determined resistance from thousands of Turkish troops desperate to frustrate this attempt to capture the approaches to their capital city, Constantinople. After a fruitless campaign lasting many months the attack was abandoned and the forces of the Empire withdrew. They left behind thousands of young men on both sides slain in the course of the conflict; many others had already been repatriated from the battlefield carrying injuries that left them scarred or crippled for life. Thus was born the legend of ANZAC.

Sacrifices made at Gallipoli and elsewhere in World War 1 have been replicated on battlefields around the world in many wars. From the Sudan Campaign in 1885 and the Boer War in 1900 to Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan, troops from Australia have fought and died for their country. The names of the conflicts and the major battlefields are inscribed on war memorials in every city and town, along with the names of local residents who enlisted.

Respect for those who serve

As Christadelphians we respect the courage, patriotism and sacrifice of young men and women who answered their country’s call to fight, in words found on war memorials throughout the British Commonwealth, “for God, King and Empire” (or country). We certainly are thankful for the peace, prosperity and freedoms delivered and underpinned by their sacrifice. These men and women were willing to put their lives on the line for what they believed in and for the country that claimed their allegiance, just as the saints must be willing to give all for their beliefs and for the Kingdom of God to which they have sworn allegiance.

It is only appropriate that the monarch and nation for which these gallant men and women fought and died should honour their service. All nations have days on which they pay respect to their armed forces. In Australia and New Zealand their service is commemorated on ANZAC Day on 25 April and, to a lesser and declining extent, Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, on 11 November, the date on which the armistice was signed in 1918 to bring an end to hostilities in World War 1.

After the Great War, King George V asked his subjects to mark Remembrance Day on 11 November by observing two minutes silence at 11.00am (perhaps as a sop to an increasingly frenetic world it often is now reduced to one minute). Although Remembrance Day has become less prominent in the modern world many people still stop what they are doing and remain silent for one minute at 11.00am on that date. It would be inappropriate and disrespectful for Christadelphians, who are commanded as far as possible to live peaceably with all men, to disturb the observance of silence at that time by those who mark this date.

When Remembrance Day falls upon a Sunday, 11.00am is the time when the Memorial Meeting commences or is underway at most Christadelphian meetings. When this first occurred in the 1920s most meetings concluded that, as a mark of respect to their neighbours and for the King (1 Pet 2:17), they should either delay the start of their meeting or briefly suspend the meeting at 11.00am to ensure that those nearby who were observing silence at that time were not disturbed. This was entirely appropriate and honourable and is to be commended.

ANZAC Day commemorations

In Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC Day is the date on which the primary commemoration of their soldiers’ sacrifice is held. The monarch for whom so many fought and died is represented at these services in Canberra or Wellington by the Governor-General and in the State capitals by the respective Governor. Veterans and detachments from the current Armed Forces attend the main ceremonies and the marches which follow. Clergy from the major churches, often those who serve officially as chaplains to the defence forces, play a leading role in the services, which usually include hymns and prayers suitable to the occasion. Other nations have similar ceremonies on other dates to honour the veterans who fought for them and the men and women who perished on the battlefields.

It is appropriate for Australians and New Zealanders to participate in services on ANZAC Day and for the citizens of other nations to participate in similar ceremonies in their nation. Is it appropriate, however, for Christadelphians to participate in such events? In certain rare circumstances it might be appropriate: a brother or sister who served their country in the armed forces prior to being baptised may feel a need to honour the sacrifice of their mates; a member who had a very close relative who fought or died may, for family reasons, wish to attend a service. Other than these rare circumstances, however, it would be most appropriate for Christadelphians to abstain from attendance at such events.

Australians would not ordinarily participate in services at which the Turks, Germans or Japanese, honour the sacrifice of those that fought for their country. If visiting those lands they would, of course, show respect towards any such commemorations conducted while they were present, but they would not usually participate in such services. The same principle applies to ANZAC Day or its equivalent in nations in which Christadelphians reside. As pilgrims and strangers in the land in which they were born or now live it is not appropriate for Christadelphians to participate in services designed to honour those who fought for that land.

Christadelphians refuse to enlist in the armed forces of the nations in which they live, even when compelled to do so by conscription. They honour the commitment of their neighbours when they enlist to serve their country, but it is not the country to which the saints pledge allegiance and they cannot join their neighbours in that commitment.

It would be hypocritical for a Christadelphian to participate in a service which honours the sacrifice of armed forces their conscience does not permit them to join. If conscription were to be reintroduced, how would a brother or sister justify to a tribunal considering their claim as a conscientious objector to military service their involvement in ceremonies designed to commemorate the services of the armed forces in they which they refuse to enlist?

War against Turkey

The attack on Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915 failed. Today it often is presented as a debacle and an example of inept military adventurism. While it is true that mistakes were made, it is not often appreciated that the campaign was very nearly successful. Associated with the landings was naval activity designed to force a way through the heavily defended Dardanelles to allow for an assault on Constantinople from the water. An Australian submarine was actually successful in passing though the Dardanelles before being sunk in the Sea of Marmara.

Had the Gallipoli campaign and its associated naval attack been successful Turkey would have been defeated early in the war and the allies would have been able more effectively to support Russia in her battle with Germany on the eastern front. Almost certainly this would have hastened the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary. It may even have helped to prevent the Russian Revolution of 1917.

It is impossible to say with certainty what might have happened because the Gallipoli campaign was not successful. History would have been very different, but history unfolds in accordance with the divine prophetic plan; no amount of planning by man could ever frustrate God’s purpose. It was not in God’s purpose that Turkey should be defeated in this way, that the Great War should end so early or that the Russian Revolution should be prevented.

Turkey ultimately was defeated by the allies. War memorials which witness ANZAC Day ceremonies every year often also mention the campaigns in Palestine and Mesopotamia in which British Empire forces were successful in their attack on the Ottoman Empire. Thus it was that Australian and New Zealand troops commenced what has been a long-standing involvement in conflict in the Middle East, an involvement that would otherwise be inexplicable other than on the basis that prophecy requires that Tarshish and its young lions must be concerned with the security of the Middle East at the time of the end.

Using the symbol of “the great river Euphrates” God decreed in the sixth seal (Rev 16:12) that the Ottoman Empire must be dried up. The Great War brought this drying up process to a climax. Great rivers which overspread their flood plain dry up from the edges, not from the centre. In accordance with the logic of the symbol, therefore, the attack on Turkey near its very heart at Gallipoli failed, whereas attacks on the remnant of the empire at its extremities were successful.

Turkey’s defeat in World War I paved the way for a British mandate over Palestine and, subsequently, the establishment in 1948 of an independent Jewish homeland in Israel. This is the great sign in the heavens that the return of Christ is near (Matt 24:30 – 34). Christadelphians have every reason to be interested in the events concerning Australia’s and New Zealand’s involvement in military conflict in the Middle East, but that interest should reflect their awareness of its relevance to Bible prophecy rather than a misplaced sense of patriotism for a country which is not their own.